The Head as thought leader (part one)

When you are managing a team of marketers of any size in a school, you are always seeking the best return on your time and money invested. You want to get the most out of what you put in and make sure your strategy is scalable. Thought leadership could be your breakthrough strategy. It is available to all Heads and doesn’t discriminate on school size, geography or budget.

What if you could use a thought leadership strategy (already proven to be well-loved by school education buyers) to acquire new students at a lower cost, without compromising your entire marketing strategy?

As with anything, it can be hard to get ideas off the ground and turned into a reality — especially in the midst of a demanding role as Head. But fear not. Here is everything you need to know.

What is thought leadership and why should Heads care about it?

Thought leadership isn’t another bit of useless marketing jargon — it is a powerful way to position your school as the only credible alternative for parents in your market.

By expressing your knowledge, sharing a story or offering advice to others, thought leadership proves your authority as a school (and employer) of choice. Then, when your target audience reads your content and looks for a solution to their educational problem (who can I trust with my child?), your school will be the one at the front of their mind.

School Heads need to be driving value for their school brands through thought leadership pieces if they want to stand any chance at making their marketing strategy a success.

Heads who contribute thought leadership pieces become go-to leaders in their school niche and are more likely to be the person sought out when someone is looking for a school.

Find your brand story, bring it to life … and stick to it

What you say is your biggest weapon. Effective marketing starts with storytelling — knowing how to create the core narrative that most powerfully connects your school brand and its audience.

You can’t tell a brand story you don’t know. Too many schools have no formal process for finding their most effective core narrative, so they end up telling many different, often conflicting, brand stories.

That is the point of powerful thought leadership. Understanding your core brand story, sticking to it and, as a result, giving your audience what they want and expect — not confusing them with multiple messages.

Start at the beginning when building out your core story

Your core brand story is something fundamental and unique that represents the common element in every story your school brand might tell. It is your school brand’s differentiating narrative. It is your brand’s heart.

There are three common laws of story-finding:

  1. The truth comes first. Uncover what is true about your school brand … to find out why it really exists. Finding the truth involves intelligence gathering in four areas: audience; brand promises, attributes and history; competitors; cultural context.

  2. Your audience decides what matters. Story-finding is not about hammering away at undifferentiating claims or features. It’s about finding and unpacking the desire of the audience. It’s about understanding what they need from your school. It might be academic rigour, pastoral care for the whole child, a special blend of both or something entirely different. It is found where your brand promise meets their expectations.

  3. It is what your target audience and your school brand share that makes the story. Every story that is made and distributed, no matter the channel or the immediate goal, can be instantly identified as coming from your school’s brand because the core story is consistent and unique. Every story and message are perceived to be authentic because they are part of a core truth your school brand and your target audience share. The result is more effective story-making in every channel.

That doesn’t happen unless brands begin at the beginning.

How thought leadership can help you meet your key objectives

Prospective parents need to know your school can be trusted before handing over their child. Being the real voice of your customer is a crucial tactic to leverage in the quest to get that trust. Capture customer expectations, preferences and challenges, and you’ll start to get to know them on a one-to-one basis.

Instead of pushing undifferentiated promotional messages at them, thought leadership pieces act as their voice. You are ditching the obvious self-promotion in favour of providing help, guidance and support to the people who need it: your prospective parents.

Thought leadership content allows you to position yourself and your school as someone your prospective parent knows, while also proving you are trustworthy enough to provide an outstanding education for their child. It is the perfect opportunity to put your storytelling skills to good use. Understand key customer talking points and build a disruptive conversation around them.

Insight applied

Seven golden rules of thought leadership:

  • Don’t sell anything except ideas.
  • Always give it away.
  • Have a unique perspective.
  • Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Address a specific audience.
  • Get involved.
  • Admit what you don’t know.

Want to know more? Look for part two of The Head as thought leader, coming soon to our SMJ blogs.

Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness. 

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